Sustainability Solutions Lab

Sustainability Solutions Lab

The Sustainability Solutions Lab (SSL) is a new program through the Office of Sustainability Integration. The SSL, located in the Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest, provides our community with resources, information and support to carry out sustainability-related projects on campus dealing typically with waste, energy and transportation. The SSL employs student interns who work either during the regular fall and spring semesters or intensively over the summer and Winter Term. 

Currently, the SSL is playing a major role in meeting the goals of Energy2028.

SSL Blog -- Look here for weekly updates and an inside view of the Sustainability Solutions Lab!

June 21, 2019

My name is Gabe Desmond, and welcome to the third sustainability solutions lab blog! I’m a rising Senior Feb (three semesters left) pursuing a joint major in Environmental Studies and Philosophy, and am finishing up my third week with the SSL. As of this week, our complete team of six interns has arrived, so we are now working full steam ahead. Amidst mapping out the summer and building relationships with the rest of the office, I have primarily been focusing in on two projects: Middlebury’s internal carbon price and the electrical renovations going on in Stewart Hall.

Developing Middlebury’s carbon pricing system is actually something I’ve been working on for over a year now. I first got involved back in the Spring of 2018 when the project was being spearheaded by Max Greenwald ‘18 and Michael Shrader ‘18. This fall, I stepped up to fill the vacuum they had left behind after graduation. As the Co-Manager of the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and the Co-Chair of Environmental Council’s (EC) committee on carbon pricing, I helped integrate work between the two groups to devise an equitable and effective way to pay the social cost of carbon.

With Energy 2028 passing in January, carbon pricing was integrated into the plan as a way to help reduce our energy consumption by 25 percent. Along with a wonderful team of SNEG and EC members (special shout-out to my EC Co-chair Will Amidon!) I helped develop a system that sees the college committing to spending at least $40/MTCDE (Metric Ton of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent) emitted on sustainability and energy-efficiency projects. Our plan also sees transportation being charged by department, but some specifics are still being worked out. Over the rest of the summer I will continue crunching numbers and working with folks across the institution to make sure that our system is fair to everyone and inspires real behavioral change. Tune into my next blog for an update!

Working on the electric renovations of Stewart Hall has also been very rewarding. Mike Moser, Director of Facilities Services, has been kind enough to give me a crash course in electrical engineering and teach me about the Middlebury electrical system. Stewart will have some of the most advanced electrical metering on campus, providing real-time, floor-by-floor data on electrical usage. It’s even being wired so that one day information might be available to students on a room-by-room basis! This granular data will allow students to be even more informed about how their actions impact energy consumption, hopefully spurring more conscientious behavior. I will be working with fellow intern Raechel to make the data to be accessible and useful to those living in Stewart next year. 

Beyond this we’ve had the chance to explore other parts of Middlebury’s sustainability infrastructure. On Wednesday, all of the SSL interns did a tour of the compost facility along with four farm interns who are working up at The Knoll. Kim Bickham, the Waste Management Supervisor showed us how they manage all of the campus’s food waste and turn it into the black gold compost that gives nutrients to our farm and others. I was particularly surprised at how quickly the compostable cups, boxes, and utensils break down. After 6 weeks, the compostable items are not even identifiable!

With two full months of work ahead, I am very excited to see all that we will accomplish this summer. I’m consistently impressed by the quality of the work my fellow interns are producing, so tune in next week to read about what Max Borrmann ’20 has been working on. Hint: besides smelling compost he has been working on some amazing animations for an upcoming video!

June 14, 2019

Hi! I’m Cathleen and I’m a rising junior from the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. It’s hard to believe, but this is the end of my fourth week here. I’ve learned so much while I’ve been here: how to sort waste (I also made a website to help those who’d like to learn how to sort their waste at go/sort), how much waste we produce, how the biomass plant works, how cow poop and food waste can help us heat our campus, and the list goes on and on.

As Raechel said in her blog post, we analyzed data from the Recycling Center as one of our projects. When we looked at the difference in total weight (which includes recyclables, compostables, and waste) between May and April, the results were a little shocking. On average, the recycling center receives 118,205 pounds more waste, recyclables, and compostables in May compared to April. For reference, an adult blue whale weighs anywhere from 110,000 - 330,000 lbs.

This diagram shows the difference in how much material the Recycling Center receives in May compared to April.

This picture shows a size comparison between a human and a blue whale. Imagine adding a blue whale’s weight (a blue whale’s tongue alone weighs as much as an elephant) on top of the waste that the Recycling Center already receives; that’s the impact of move-out! Donating unneeded items at the end of the year or selling items to incoming first-years at the beginning of semesters would be a great way to mitigate your impact during move-out season.

I visited the recycling center on Wednesday the 12th, when they reopened. I got there around 7:20 AM, and the line (comprised of both students and townies) was already so long! According to a Recycling Center employee, the line began forming at 5:20 AM, which was shocking. Once I looked at what was offered though, I could see why. There were multitudes of fridges, suitcases, clothes, food (I think I got enough for the whole summer), pots, pans, kettles, Swiffer mops, drying racks, mattresses, microwaves, chairs, utensils, binders, books, stuffed animals (I got three), toiletries, and so much more.

This picture shows the prices for the sale at the Recycling Center. Make sure to wear closed-toe shoes when you visit!

The Recycling Center is amazing for so many reasons, and after that sale, I’m filled with appreciation for them. Kudos to them for helping us divert so much waste from the landfill. In 2017, they diverted 68.1% of Middlebury College’s waste from the landfill, which is an incredibly high number! And as the sale shows, they’re also great for providing resources for students and the Middlebury community.

Another one of our projects was/is updating the kiosk and dashboard. Among other things, the kiosk in Hillcrest displays information about the building, such as how much electricity is being consumed. Our dashboard previously ran on flash, and since Adobe is planning to remove support for flash by the end of 2020 (by the way, RIP flash games like Tetris), we have to update our kiosk and dashboard. I wrangled with the kiosk for a while, but finally managed to update it to the newest version, just in time for it to be ready for any curious alumni that were present during the Energy2028 presentation during Reunion. Our next step will be to roll out a dashboard that is flash-independent, so be on the lookout for our new and improved dashboard!

Speaking of alumni, I was pleasantly surprised at how many of them went to the Energy2028 presentation. I was even more surprised at how engaged they were with the topic. One particularly memorable moment was during introductions; while we were all introducing ourselves, an alumnus spoke about how he had witnessed the detrimental effects of climate change on coral reefs for the last 50 years. The presentation also helped me appreciate how Middlebury recognizes climate change as a human problem, not a political problem. I particularly value how Middlebury incorporates the well-being of the community as part of its approach to Energy2028. For example, when considering the location of the solar field, the College found a location that would impede Middlebury citizens the least.

As part of Energy2028, Middlebury intends to reduce energy consumption on its core Vermont campus by 25% by 2028, and this reduction will come from changes to campus infrastructure as well as behavioral changes. As Raechel said, we’re developing some sustainability programming for first-year dorms in the fall. This programming will help with behavioral changes that will contribute to Midd’s energy consumption. This programming also aligns with Middlebury’s commitment to expanded educational opportunities, as the programming is part of a 6-year study conducted by the psychology and economics department.

I’m excited to work on programming with the other interns! Last year, I was fortunate enough to benefit from some pretty nice programming from the Gifford RA’s (planting seeds and drinking boba were some of my favorite events). I hope that I can use my experiences to help make the programming for the first-years as enjoyable as possible, and I’m sure that I’ll learn even more about sustainability as we work on programming.


June 7, 2019

Welcome to the Sustainability Solutions Lab summer blog! My name is Raechel and I’m a rising sophomore at Middlebury from Western North Carolina. I’ve been given the honor of writing the first SSL blog post of the summer. I’ve been working in the SSL for about two and a half weeks since exam week ended at Midd and though summer hasn’t quite kicked into gear yet in Vermont (yesterday was cold and rainy and the heat has still been turning on in my summer housing), we’ve been busy and already had a great start in the SSL!

Cathleen started the summer off at the beginning with me and in our first full week in the office we went on a field trip with Eva to Middlebury’s biomass plant. Brad Bauman, who manages the plant, gave us a tour of the facilities and explained the process that uses locally harvested wood chips to produce energy that generates steam to heat the buildings at Middlebury, and also produces some of the electricity used on campus.

The biomass plant played a key role in Midd reaching our carbon neutrality goal in 2016 and will continue to play an important part of our goals for Energy2028.

In the office we’ve been kept busy with other things. Middlebury has a wonderful Recycling Center where everything thrown out on campus is sorted and some fantastic employees work to divert as much waste away from the landfill as possible. They also weigh and keep track of everything that goes through the center and Cathleen and I were lucky enough to get access to over 20 years of data to start off our summer! We spent a lot of time the first week or so sorting through all of the data and organizing it so that we can look at trends in the school’s consumption over the years as our population and other aspects of campus have changed. Some things we’re interested in looking at are: how much extra waste is generated when new buildings such as BiHall and the Athletic Center are constructed?; are we throwing more things out in May when students leave campus for the summer?; has the rise of delivery services and websites like Amazon increased the amount of cardboard and other packaging material that we’re consuming? Now that we have all of this information catalogued in one place, we hope to use it in the future to inform goals and strategies to reduce consumption and waste at Middlebury.

This week Cathleen and I were joined by two more SSL interns and we’re excited for three more to arrive in the coming weeks to round out the summer crew. We’ve been working with Jack and Eva to create a list of projects that largely revolve around Energy2028 and Middlebury’s goal to reduce our energy use and transition to 100% renewable energy. In the coming weeks we look forward to developing some sustainability programming for freshman dorms in the fall as well working on outreach about what we do here in Hillcrest and how other can get involved!




To learn more about the 2018 Winter Term internship, click here

To get involved or to learn more please email